Tuesday, March 4, 2014

That narrow-minded attitudes are insidious


My son, Logan, is getting great at his favourite computer game, League of Legends. He sits up late to play and recently got himself high into the ranks of Platinum 1. They tell me that is nudging very close to a Diamond ranking, where many players actually have the potential to earn, or are already earning money.

Yet rarely does he get congratulated by extended family or friends, and I include myself too. We praise his sister, Emma, more for her various pursuits. Emma's ambition is to be a dessert chef, and she makes some luscious treats in the kitchen to take to events. She also loves her nature photography, and her art lessons. She puts a lot of heart and soul into all of this, and it's right that she should receive positive feedback. It's very easy to give, when her chosen hobbies are so easy to admire.

Yet a lot of work and passion goes into Logan's hobby too. To be as good at League of Legends as he is takes skill, coordination, reaction time, finely honed prediction skills and being able to liaise well with team members. It's taken a lot of work to rise in the ranks of the game as he has done, and very few have made it that far. His dad, Andrew, likes the game too, but has got no higher than the Bronze level, which is much lower. There are thousands of players across the world. It's equivalent, in its way, to people attempting to be masters of Chess.

So why aren't extended family and friends as impressed with his conquest as we are with what Emma does? It surely comes down to two things which are closely connected; cultural bias and stigma. Those of us who live in English speaking countries are often surprised to learn what huge followings these computer games have in countries such as South Korea. Over there, they actually televise matches of Starcraft and League of Legends on prime time TV, as if they are celebrated sports (which indeed, they are for them).

The experts of these games are household names. They earn huge pay packets and sometimes retire with physical injuries because of the repetitive strain of being so keyed-up on their game. And the boys tell me that family expectations are way different over there. An Aussie or American parent may say, 'It's very important that you raise your maths and science grades. We want you to be a doctor.' In South Korea, a bossy mother may be more likely to say, 'I want you glued to that computer chair practising your game. We want you to be a League of Legends star! Don't get up until you've reached Gold.'

This cake was made by Emma and Jarrad for Logan's 18th birthday last year. It's a map of the League of Legends terrain.
 
There is a natural respect for games such as LOL in that part of the world which we just don't have in Australia. Logan has been known not to even mention his achievements at family or church gatherings, because people give off vibes of disapproval. They may say, 'That's all very well, but what proper hobbies and work are you doing?' Members of the older generations often don't try to hide their distaste at all. 'All those computer games are making our young people go to the dogs! It breaks my heart to see it. Your sensibilities are being worn down with all that pointless killing stuff. It's turning our young people into savages. What's the world coming to?' It never seems to occur to them that they are actually being rude to rubbish a young man's hobby in front of him. He doesn't stand there, criticising their stamp collections, lawn bowls or whatever else.

I definitely agree that there is a problem if playing the computer games is all these young people do with their time. But the same goes for reading novels, which is my own chosen leisure time filler. Anything done excessively until it becomes an addiction is too much, but that doesn't make the hobby itself intrinsically bad. And many of these young gamers are students with other outlets. Also, I believe studies have shown that people who play computer games in their spare time have not had empathy erosion any more than anybody else.

My way of thinking has been challenged. I've been on the receiving end of narrow-minded judgments myself, by some Christians who have dismissed my fiction writing as pointless and frivolous. Remembering how it felt, it surprised me one day, to hear myself echo that very same attitude with regard to computer games, when I said something like, 'If only you'd devote that much time to your school studies, instead of this stuff.'

People who buy into the stigma are short-sighted and don't realise that their hearts don't need to be broken by changing times. I've visited the Christian Gamers Guild website, which contains many interesting essays designed to give concerned parents a broader outlook about the subject of computer games. And I'm glad to see novels such as "Motive Games" by L.D. Taylor being published. This is a Young Adult novel set in the up-and-coming world of the computer game design and manufacture industry. It's a clever murder mystery showing that intelligence and honour are tied up with the industry, instead of the opposite, as many people seem to automatically assume.

Basically, I've come around to see that refusal to change with the times is not gracious, and is also a bit silly. I don't want to be counted among those who are old-fashioned, blinkered in their outlook and behind the times. I don't want to spout my mouth off negatively about something of which I know very
little. I want to be open-hearted enough to congratulate my son for a well-earned achievement instead of rolling my eyes. We're hoping he'll get up into Diamond soon.

28 comments:

  1. There's a Christian Gamers Guild? Wow. Not that there shouldn't be - it's just this post has opened my eyes to a whole world I never knew about. Well, I'm the parent of a teenage girl. Her life is WattPad and Tumblr.

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  2. That's a great post Paula and it also made me think about how easy it is to criticise what we don't understand. I used to write a lot of songs and I remember someone telling me something similar when I was at school ("If you didn't waste so much time on that rubbish, we might be able to go out and enjoy ourselves.") Thinking a bit laterally, the skills that gamers develop would be useful in a lot of other applications. An historic example that came to me was that people who were good at puzzles (like crosswords) were used to help crack the enigma code during the war. I wonder if others told them they were wasting their time on crosswords? Good on you Logan and thanks for an eye-opening post Paula. Now, if I can just get over 17% on my Spider Solitaire rating.

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  3. Thanks for this post Paula. I have had these thoughts many times especially as (confession time) a few years ago I was really into a very popular online game - I got a lot of criticism from one family member who was extremely disparaging in his comments & even today it's not something I mention in Christian circles. It does take skill, determination to do well in these games. I also had the opportunity to meet other people online & I started a moderately successful blog on the game (Kharin's Quest) which included a subtle Christian message and links in most of the posts. I agree that balance is important (as with any hobby) but that gaming is not intrinsically evil - and actually presents an opportunity to reach out beyond the Christian bubble both as players and game writers.

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  4. It's so true - we can get so caught up in our own little world that we can be quite insensitive to others. I like the point you made about Logan not commenting on lawn bowls etc. Good reminder to be more accepting, Paula.

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  5. Interesting post Paula - and thanks for opening my eyes to another level of gaming that I've only heard about. It's nice to hear of a family that makes it work positively for them.
    My oldest son enjoys computer games, but we find they make him too tense to encourage too much. But I wonder if this is an age thing...
    It's always good to challenge our habitual narrowing and test it in line with Kingdom values.

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  6. I agree, Paula. There are certain things that people seem to have in their heads as worthwhile pursuits, others not so much. Writing, for instance, is often considered more of an interesting hobby than anything to be taken seriously, unless you're a journalist. So often, our list of things that make a person successful in our eyes, are alarmingly small.

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  7. Wonderful how much our children can teach us just by observing them or by their reactions. Now that my children are not in the house I have to wait for visits from them or the grandchildren for those moments that leave me pondering because of something they have said or done. Not that there aren't still plenty of them - especially with four bright, outgoing grandchildren to teach me things. Enjoy all the moments, Paula. They leave home so soon.

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  8. Thanks for your comments, everyone. Yes, Iola, the Christian Gamers Guild have got some good and interesting essays written by their chaplain and others. Well worth a visit. http://www.christian-gamers-guild.org/wtd.html

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  9. Hi Nola,
    It is easy to criticise these things, and I found it an eye-opener when I did it myself, after lamenting when people do it for me. It does seem to be easy for people to overlook that the gamers are developing good life skills.

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  10. Hi Jenny,
    I'm sure your Kharin's Quest blog would have been great fun to keep up. The games certainly do promote bonding between people of different backgrounds and beliefs. I think you might enjoy the Christian Gamers Guild too.

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  11. Hi Andrea,
    It's certainly easy to dismiss interests which don't match our own. A quirk of human nature. Gets you thinking, when there are several diverse interests within the one family.

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  12. Hi Penny,
    I've had my moments of scolding and listening to the negative comments. I'm glad I was challenged to think differently by several people. I can understand what you mean about your son's tension, though. Some of the games are getting so real and fast in their graphics.

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  13. Hi Lynne,
    It can be a real cultural mindblock for sure. Makes it easy for us to judge ourselves based on the opinions we perceive from the world around us.

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  14. Hi Carol,
    Yes, now that our first child is a Uni student, I'm feeling that the time has gone amazingly fast. Technology has made their interests far more different than ours, at their age.

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  15. As a young adult who still enjoys video games, I love this post.
    I grew up playing Pokemon on the Gameboy. I honestly believe these games played a huge role in my early education. The time spent playing was also developing vocabulary, spatial awareness and problem solving skills. There is such negative stigma. Yes, there is potential for addiction, but there is so much positive potential too!

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  16. Susan: My nineteen year old son became unusually animated the other day when he described a new computer game that has hit the scene. It is played by as many as 65,000 people at once, which is of itself one of the main challenges; finding an entry point. I have no idea how it works; what I did enjoy was watching him light up and vocalize how challenging it was. On another note, I learnt from him that good old fashioned board games have made a comeback. For his birthday he had a round table of young guys playing the latest board games for over eight hours. So, like everything in life, maintaining a balance is important.

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  17. Hi Sarah,
    I'm really happy to hear from you. Thanks for your feedback about the vast benefits the games have added to your life over the years. I agree, this is where so many people seem to have blind spots.
    My younger son, who is 10, loves everything Pokemon right now, from the electronic games to the trading card game.

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  18. Hi Susan,
    My son is 19 too, and our experience is just the same. When something makes them light up like that, it should not be dismissed outright, that's for sure.
    Good old board games are good too. There's one in our house, The Settlers of Catan, which seems popular at the moment.

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  19. My son is only a bronze 3. He is a little shy about competing in levels. :o) He loves the cake, by the way!

    I know it took me a while to come to terms with Chase's love of computer games. It's true that when you have the pressure of family and friends dismissing the activity it can really make them feel that what they do is unimportant. I don't want him to feel marginalized.

    Have you ever read Frank Cottrell Boyce's book "Cosmic?" The main character is a boy who loves WoW and whose family doesn't understand his online world. Great story!

    Thanks for this post Paula. I am glad our sons enjoy LOL!

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  20. Hi Paula, Thanks so much for this post. It is good to be reminded that we are all unique with different gifts and abilities. I myself have been struggling with thinking that my writing is not important unless I get published. It's hard to break free of our cultural mindset. I loved what you said about the different priorities of families in South Korea.

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  21. Very interesting. I think even those of us who play computer games can sometimes naturally start thinking this way. There is an amusing (but very silly) comedy show on youTube called Video Game Highschool, set in near-future America where they have a similar culture to what you described. Schools give gaming scholarships just like they do with sports scholarships in the real world.

    Another similar issue I think is that many people don't recognise computer games as a valid story-telling medium on par with books and movies, which some games (but not all) are.

    Anyway, I'm off to check out the Christian Gamers Guild. Sounds like fun.

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  22. Hi Cristina,
    Thanks for the tip. I'll have to get hold of 'Cosmic'. Sounds like a good read. The boys do have such good times, don't they? Andrew says Chase is about his level :) Logan is sitting on Platinum 1 at the moment. Trying to get into Diamond has coincided with the start of Uni for the year :)

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  23. Hi Linsey,
    It's a real lesson in perspective, learning things like that. I'm glad I found it. And I agree with you, the same thing can be said about writing for sure.

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  24. Hi Adam,
    I'm sure you'll find, as I did, that you can spend hours reading their articles. There are some interesting ones not only about computer games but role playing games such as D&D.
    What you said is so true. People can be so affected by the general negative stigma around them, that they can begin to feel the same about their own passions and hobbies.
    The boys said they watched a season of Video Game Highschool and found it funny.

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  25. From a Mum who's son want to be a Video Game Designer - I am so hearing you. And from an author who has been the target of narrow mindedness, I feel that pain as well. I have no problem that Tully wants to spend time on his games,(when he has finished his work and jobs that is). He loves creative games and that is really good for his imagination. I am careful about what his is doing though. But isn't that just a Mum's job when it comes to everything their kids do?.
    Would love a link to that Christian Gamers Guild if you have one.

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  26. Hi Rose,
    It's an interesting site. The link is http://www.christian-gamers-guild.org/ I got caught on there, reading articles.
    My nephew who lives in Cairns is studying a Game Design course at James Cook University. Maybe Tully will end up doing something similar, and within the next ten years, we can only imagine what courses there may be for people with active imaginations.

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  27. Hi Rose,
    It's an interesting site. The link is http://www.christian-gamers-guild.org/ I got caught on there, reading articles.
    My nephew who lives in Cairns is studying a Game Design course at James Cook University. Maybe Tully will end up doing something similar, and within the next ten years, we can only imagine what courses there may be for people with active imaginations.

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